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Cleaning Your Beekeeping Equipment - How To Guide

Cleaning Your Beekeeping Equipment - How To Guide

Posted by Josie Clow on 26th Jul 2023

Everyone who keeps bees know the pains of keeping your equipment clean and pest free. What with wax moth, and AFB being the two main reasons keeping your equipment clean is so important, it still doesn't mean it enjoyable or very easy at times. 

However, as we get closer to Spring, it is important to make sure you aren't putting any infested hive components on your growing hive, nor should you be using or wearing dirty tools or protective clothing. This can all lead to the spread of diseases from hive to hive which is not what you want as your bees are coming out of winter. 

Why do we Clean Beekeeping Equipment? 

Cleaning is not about aesthetics. There’ll be stains that just won’t come off. But, even when you can get honey, wax, and propolis off your equipment, it can leave a mark. 

So, if it won’t look clean, why bother? We clean to avoid cross-contamination. Bees have pests and diseases that spread across hives. If you don’t clean your equipment, you can turn into a host, spreading spores and pests to an otherwise healthy colony and causing disease. In this article, we will show you how to clean different items of beekeeping equipment and your apiary. 

1. How Do You Clean Your Protective Equipment? 

Your first shield of defense against bee stings is your suit, veil, and gloves. They are all made of different materials. That’s why we’ll handle them separately. 

Bee suits are made of cotton, nylon, or a polyester blend. Most bee suits are white or a light color to help keep you cool as you go about your work. Each material calls for a different treatment.

How do you machine wash your bee suit? 

Use washing soda to cut through the wax and propolis to get those bits off your suit. 

How do you hand wash your bee suit? The materials are the same, but you have the freedom to get a soft brush or a scrubbing aid to help you get rid of stubborn chunks of propolis. In addition, you can soak the suit for about 20 minutes to allow the washing soda and soap to soften the dirt, making it easier to scrub off. Once they are clean, let them air dry outside. 

How often should you clean your suit? It depends on how often you wear and use it. It’s easier to keep it clean if you wash it as soon as you finish up in the apiary. However, sometimes we get tired and ball up the suit and forget about it for weeks, especially in winter. That’s when you get mildew, which is stinky and leaves stains that are difficult to remove. Some stains are difficult to get out of, but that shouldn’t worry you. The bees don’t care. Wash off the alarm pheromone and rinse away any chemical smells from your suit that may irritate your bees. For synthetic material, avoid using hot water. The washing soda is quite effective. Remember to use gloves to protect your skin when using washing soda. 

How Do You Clean A Beekeeping Veil? 

For all of our suits and jackets, you can remove the veil and hand wash separately to mitigate any damage that might occur in the washing machine. 

Soak your hat and veil for a few minutes to loosen any dirt. Scrub the cotton section (the part that is not the veil) with a light brush for stubborn stains. Let it air dry, possibly inside the room or under a shade. Drying a dark-colored veil under the sun may cause it to bleach and change its color.

Once both suit/jacket and veil are washed and dry, you can reattach it using the zip. 

How Do You Clean Your Beekeeping Gloves? 

Beekeeping gloves bear the brunt of bee stings when you are working in the hive. The stings release a pungent pheromone that lingers on your glove. If you leave your gloves unwashed, the welcoming bee party will be very aggressive during your next visit. 

How do I wash Nitrile/synthetic gloves? 

You can wash nitrile gloves with soap and water or dispose of them after your hive visit or harvest. They can also be machine washed but don’t put them in the dryer. They can melt and ruin your clothing and the dryer. 

How do I wash my work or fabric gloves? 

Scrape off honey using a plastic spatula or something similar. Avoid pushing it into the fabric. Soak the gloves in hot water and some liquid detergent. If the stains persist, you can use bleach. The truth is, they are unlikely to look as good as new, but they’ll get clean enough to get you through the season. If you use bleach, ensure you rinse well and dry them in the sun. You can also use the white vinegar that we talk about in the cleaning smoker section.

How do I wash my leather gloves? 

Leather gloves are the Spiderman of the beekeeping gloves. They provide great protective power, but they require a lot of cleaning responsibility. Soak them in cold chlorine water. That will help to loosen the stains and the wax. Rinse the chlorine out thoroughly and wash the gloves with warm soapy water. Dry them in the sun. They’ll get stiff as they dry, so consider conditioning them with oil before they are completely dry.

2. How To Clean Your Beekeeping Tools (Hive Tool, Bee Brush) 

The hive tool helps beekeepers get through that sticky propolis barrier that the bees use to keep their hive sanitized.

Cleaning the hive tool is a simple three-step process: 

Step 1 – Scrape off the propolis and wax with another hive tool or screwdriver 

Step 2 – Use a blow torch to heat the hive tool. That melts the propolis and wax. 

Step 3 – Wipe the melted wax and propolis with a rag, and presto, clean hive-tool 

Bee brush Wash the bee brush with some soap and warm water to help dissolve and remove any honey.

3. How Do You Clean A Smoker? 

It is easy to overlook your bee smoker when thinking of cleaning your equipment. We intentionally fill them with dry leaves and set them on fire. As long as you remember to pour out the ash and blackened remains of your fuel, you should be okay, shouldn’t you? Not quite. With time, the soot will accumulate and block airways, or worse, ignite and cause you to blow smoke into the hive, sometimes with bits of glowing particles that can damage the hive or your suit. An important step is to scrape off as much soot as you can. There are two ways you can clean your smoker.

First, get some white vinegar and pour about a cup of vinegar into a bucket. Fill the rest of the bucket with hot water. The vinegar breaks through the oil that acts as an adhesive for the soot to cling to your smoker. Position your smoker so that the air hole is not in contact with water. You can suspend it using any thick string or rope that will keep it in place. Pour in the water until it is just under the air hole. Leave it for about 12 hours. Then, wash it out. 

Second, use creosote remover with your desired fuel. Choose a slow-burning fuel that burns hot. The hotter it gets, the better it cleans. Keep the smoker on for a few hours. It is best done outdoors or using something with a chimney. No scrub, no fuss.

4. How Do You Clean A Beehive? 

There is not much you need to clean in a colonized hive. You can cut off the burr comb or scrape off the propolis seal. The bees do a pretty good job of keeping things tidy in the comb. 

Previously occupied hives need to be cleaned before you install a new colony. Maybe you have a colony that did not make it through the winter. Sometimes bees abscond with their queen and leave a drawn comb that attracts wax moths. It is vital to diagnose what caused them to leave. 

  • If the colony was riddled with disease, you need to do more work to sterilize your equipment and tools. 
  • If the problem was foulbrood, you probably would have to destroy the hive. 

How do you clean wooden hives? 

When cleaning a wood hive, take out the frames which you will handle separately. Scrape off any dead bees and debris. Use either boiling water or a blow torch to sterilize the hive. If you choose the blowtorch, you need to scorch (not burn) the surface of the wood, paying particular attention to the corners. That is where pests like wax moths choose to lay their eggs. You can also use boiling water if you do not have a blow torch. Using a kettle, bring the water to a boil and pour a steady stream of that hot water all over the wood hive. Once again, concentrate thoroughly on those corners. The water must be scalding hot, so be careful. Air dry before you put it away for storage.

How Do You Clean Frames? 

Freeze drawn-out frames for at least 24 hours before storing them to kill any wax moth eggs. When you take them out of the freezer, wrap them in plastic and keep them in a cool, dry place. If you suspect foulbrood, you will have to destroy the frames as well. Sometimes, the wax moths get to your frames before you do, scraping off all the webbing and remaining wax. Then dip them in boiling water or scorch them to kill any eggs and then store them.

5. How To Clean Your Apiary 

Strictly speaking, an apiary is not an equipment, but it is a valuable asset. Keeping the apiary tidy reduces pest accessibility, specifically ants, and makes inspections easier for any beekeeper.

Keep the weeds short so that insects do not use them as a bridge into the hive. Trim hanging branches to avoid attacks from above and keep twigs from snagging your beekeeping veil. Cleaning equipment may not be fun, but these tips make it a little easier. If you have any additional tips, let us know in the comment section below. We’d love to hear from you.

When considering AFB there are some misconceptions that I want to cover:

A beekeeper’s gloves, hive tool and smoker are unlikely to carry sufficiently large numbers of spores to be a major factor in the spread of AFB. Nevertheless, when an AFB hive is found, precautions should be taken to ensure that equipment will not be a risk.

Beekeepers have traditionally used a range of products including soaps, detergents and methylated spirits or kerosene to sterilise gloves and smokers. Some of these may physically remove AFB spores, but trials have shown that none of these substances are able to kill them. 

When AFB is found, a sensible approach to cleaning beekeeping equipment is as follows: 

  • Scrape excess propolis and wax off the wooden parts of the smoker bellows with a hive tool 
  • Scrub the outside of gloves with soapy water. - The soap will not destroy spores on the gloves, but it will help to remove materials such as wax, propolis and honey that might contain significant concentrations of spores 
  • Scrub the bellows and base of smoker in the same soapy water 
  • Scrape all propolis off the hive tool 
  • Scorch the hive tool by putting it into the smoker and pumping on the bellows to produce a flame